Stickman Readers' Submissions September 1st, 2009

Schooling For Your Children

You are a foreigner living in Thailand with your Thai wife. You are wondering about where to send your children to school. You have heard that Thai schools are dreadful and that international schools are very expensive. You would like to take your children back to your home country for schooling, but your family circumstances, your job, or your financial resources don’t make that possible. What are your options here in the Kingdom? I will give some information and my opinions. I taught in an international school in Bangkok for some years, am familiar with other international schools, have had contacts with Thai schools at various levels and in several provinces, and have friends, both Farang and Thai, who have schooled their children successfully. I am not an expert, but can suggest and describe options you may not be familiar with.

There are quite a few international schools in the Bangkok area. In my opinion the best five are Bangkok Pattana (British curriculum), ISB (American), Ruamrudee (American), NIST (British), and Harrow (Guess?!). These schools recruit faculty from overseas, have good facilities, and are truly college preparatory schools. Other international schools have lower school fees and lower teacher salaries. They may have trouble retaining their best teachers. Elementary and middle year programs can be good, but secondary program options and teacher quality can be well below the top schools, particularly in science, mathematics, and computer. There are some good international schools in Pattaya, Phuket, and Chiang Mai. They have many good teachers, who like living in that area or have a spouse working in that area. But again, in the smaller schools secondary level programs may be limited. A good source of information is International Schools Association of Thailand (ISAT).

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Now what about Thai schools? First, some examples from my area, Nonthaburi. An American friend and his Thai wife sent their two children to the local government elementary school. They wanted the children to get a good foundation in Thai language and to make friends with other children in their community. They then sent them to ISB in grade 7, and both have graduated. One went to university in the States, and the other to Mahidol U. This combination of a suburban Thai school and a top international school worked well. The children are mature, multi-cultural, and bi-lingual. Several other American friends with Thai wives send their children to small, private, Thai elementary schools in Pakkret: Wattana Preuksa and Cholaprathan. These are not the big name private schools, but the quality is good, and the parents are pleased. The cost is not high, about 40,000- per year. There should be similar schools in other areas around Bangkok.

Several prestigious private schools have campuses in Pakkret District: Phitchaya, Suan Kularb, and Amphorn Phaisan. Suan Kularb also has a main campus in Bangkok. These private schools attract affluent Thai families, are hubs for social networking, and get their graduates into good Thai universities. School fees are not high compared with many international schools. Admission is by competitive entrance examinations. One private school that I can also commend for consideration is Prasarnmitr College of Education Demonstration School, at the end of Soi 23, Sukhumvit.

I am not too familiar with the government schools in Bangkok. Quality of an elementary school should align with the socio-economic level of its district. As for secondary schools (Mathayom), I find class sizes of 40 to 50 a bit scary, but they do stream some sections by ability. The top sections would get the better teachers. There are also some Mathayom “magnet” schools for talented students. Pakkret Mathayom is also one such magnet school.

What if you live in an upcountry rural province? Where do you send your child to school? In all upcountry provinces the government elementary schools in the provincial capitals are much better than those out in the villages and small towns. If you do not already live in Amphur Muang, then you should move there as soon as possible. These schools have a year of kindergarten and maybe a year of pre-school before that. Shop around. A small school with small class sizes provides a warmer, more supportive atmosphere than bigger schools. No more than two sections per grade level is best. As for secondary school (Mathayom, grades 7 through 12), most upcountry provinces have a top academic “magnet” school in the provincial capital for the most talented students in the province. Check it out. And these magnet schools feed into universities, Khon Kaen U in the Northeast, Chiang Mai U in the North.

Now a few comments about Thai colleges and universities. Several have “international” programs where the language of instruction is English. The first one to do so, and best known, is Assumption Business Administration College (ABAC), popular with foreign permanent residents of Bangkok, particularly the Indian community. There are also some international universities with mostly foreign faculty. One that I have heard good things about is Asian International University in Banglamung District, Cholburi.

The Thai economy has expanded and modernized so rapidly over the last 20 years, the schools just haven’t been able to keep up in such a conservative society. But there are bright spots, such as a young generation of talented and dedicated teachers coming into the schools who are willing to try new programs and methods. Yes, there is still very much a “civil service” culture in the schools: job security, caution, and pleasing the boss. But more and more bosses, the headmasters and those above them at district and provincial levels are becoming flexible and innovative. Thai schools have a long way to go, but I no longer see them as “dreadful”.

So where should you send your children to school? The choices are to go back to your home country, international schools in Thailand, private Thai schools, or Thai government schools (but look for the best ones in your area, or move to Bangkok), or some combination of these choices. But remember, education is not just what goes on in schools. Stimulate your child’s curiosity, talk with your child and get your child to talk a lot. Talking is the best way to acquire language, particularly a second language. Have books and other educational materials in your home, including children’s movies in English. Take your child on trips around Thailand and to your home country. Look for other educational activities such as summer camps. Don’t let your child just sit in front of the TV or play computer games.

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Stickman's thoughts:

Tremendous advice to a frequently asked question.

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